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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tomorrow People

posted by on March 29 at 12:15 PM


More strife in Iraq. U.S. financial system in crisis. Rice prices soar.

None of these headlines will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in a court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole that will spell the end of the Earth - and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely - though they have done some checking just to make sure.

The world’s physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act.

We in the future that has been here since the end of the space age have so much to worry about.

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How weird! I was working out in the gym and had the TV set to The History Channel and the show I was watching discussed CERN! Woooo woooo woooooo spooky

Posted by Johnny | March 29, 2008 12:25 PM

thanks for ruining my day, Charles. Fuck it, i'm getting drunk and running around naked for the next 3 months. Does this tie into the Obama (black male) as president = apocalypse post you had months back? Maybe I'll start supporting hillary now.

Posted by brad | March 29, 2008 12:33 PM

It's pretty irresponsible to quote that chunk of the article without the later sections, pointing out that these guys have a history of suing big science projects with similar apocalyptic accusations (projects which went on not to destroy any universes at all). Or that one of them has a doctorate in law from "what is now known as the University of Northern California in Sacramento", and that the other "describes himself as an author and researcher on time theory". Or that the vast majority of working scientists think these guys are fucking crackpots.

Your IHT version also edits more ruthlessly than the NYT version, which includes Stephen Hawking's opinion that any man-made black holes "would rapidly evaporate in a poof of radiation and elementary particles, and thus pose no threat". Cool picture, though.

Posted by Nat | March 29, 2008 12:39 PM

Maybe we'll finally be able to invent the ansible with that thing. That would be wicked.

Posted by Jerod | March 29, 2008 12:44 PM

Come on, it's not like we'll feel it or anything if a giant black hole suddenly eats the world. Climate change is much scarier in that it is much more certain and entails much more suffering (by being slow).

More people should read the philosopher John Leslie's book The End of the World, on the Doomsday argument. It's fun, if you're not too attached to the continued existence of humans.

Posted by Sister Y | March 29, 2008 12:47 PM

Umm... How can they take them to court under the US National Environmental Policy Act when the research is based in Switzerland?

Do they realise that Switzerland is a different country?

Posted by Sean | March 29, 2008 12:49 PM
Posted by gawker | March 29, 2008 12:57 PM

And we could also get swallowed up by a wandering black hole, or even kicked out of our orbit of the sun...

Posted by Tiffany | March 29, 2008 12:57 PM

As long as the black hole gets you first, Chuckles, I'll be happy. And BTW, if you hadn't done such a shitty job on this post, Sean would have known that US courts have no jurisdiction over CERN, but do have jurisdiction over their American sources of funding.

Posted by Bwana | March 29, 2008 1:01 PM

I'm hoping they do create a black hole. And Charles will get sucked into it.

Posted by crazycatguy | March 29, 2008 1:04 PM

Ooooooh! Scary evil Scientists want to KILL US ALL!

Posted by montex | March 29, 2008 1:13 PM

Before the first h-bomb test, there were some scientists who were worried that the manmade fission explosion might create a runaway chain reaction throughout the planet's entire atmosphere. The worriers couldn't stop Progress, though -- they went right on ahead and exploded the thing anyway.

Posted by Peter F | March 29, 2008 1:13 PM

With luck, the Hero (and his love interest) will be able to stop this travesty of science just as the clock reaches 3 seconds; preferably by throwing rival mad scientist into the gaping maw of the accelerator.

Posted by Colton | March 29, 2008 1:24 PM

As long as they don't try to run any grapes through it, we should be just fine.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 29, 2008 1:31 PM

My goal in life is to die owing a shitpile of money to the IRS. If I die right now, I will have succeeded quite spectacularly, so fire that sucker up!

Posted by Captain Numbnuts | March 29, 2008 1:32 PM

nat, one day he will be right.

Posted by charles Mudede | March 29, 2008 1:46 PM

Well, hopefully we'll disapparate into a quantum singularity before having to endure too much of his smugness, then.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 29, 2008 1:50 PM

Can't they just fire some electrons at it to create matter or something to stop such a reaction if it does get out of control? For every action there is an equal, opposite reaction, and all.

Posted by Gomez | March 29, 2008 2:01 PM

Gomez, your grasp of quantum physics is truly dizzying.

Posted by Bwana | March 29, 2008 2:11 PM

If somehow they do create a black hole, I'm sure they can stop it up with some sort of a rubber plug.

Or maybe France.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 29, 2008 3:09 PM

It's a good thing I've decided not to renew my condo lease in July.

Posted by Wolf | March 29, 2008 4:07 PM

One of the litigants, Luis Sancho, is demonstrably insane, as seen from his website:

The other litigant, Walter Wagner, filed a similar suit against another collider that was found to be baseless.

Any quantum black holes that form should be evaporated almost instantly by Hawking radiation. Even in the unlikely event that a theoretically-possible quantum strangelet forms, it's extremely unlikely that it would lead to all nearby matter being converted to strangelets.

Posted by Peter F | March 29, 2008 4:18 PM

Thanks for the link, Pete. After a cursory review of his website, it's official: this guy is a certifiable, grade A nut job.

Posted by Bwana | March 29, 2008 4:53 PM

Thanks for the link, Pete. After a cursory review of his website, it's official: this guy is a certifiable, grade A nut job.

Posted by Bwana | March 29, 2008 4:54 PM

The Earth is constantly bombarded by high energy particles similar to the ones produced by the LHC. The universe is full of natural particle accelerators. This one just has dectectors around it.

Posted by toasterhedgehog | March 29, 2008 4:59 PM

I don't understand what they're doing at anything other than a very shallow level, but it scares me shitless nonetheless. Manmade blackholes, wormholes, nanotech grey or green goo...

I'm not one to try to slap the beaker out of anyone's hand, especially when their IQ is twice mine, but am I really supposed to trust these scientists? I mean, I KNOW there has never been any situation where the discoveries of a group of highly educated scientists have led to the deaths of large numbers of people, but it's possible, right?

Posted by Stolia | March 29, 2008 5:59 PM

More paranoid crap.
I would be more worried about how scientists get their hands on 8 billion dollars to build particle accelerators. 8 billion could solve some serious poverty problems on this particle called Earth.

Posted by -B- | March 29, 2008 6:15 PM

Eight billion? That's chicken shit. The Brits spent $8.2 billion on the third terminal at Heathrow, and it doesn't even fucking work.

Posted by Bwana | March 29, 2008 6:37 PM

$8 bill is cheap in light of the benefits CERN p[rovides -- many thriller novels' finales are set in its mad physicist-dense, underAlpen lair....

Posted by unPC | March 29, 2008 7:58 PM

Point of clarification, @12:

The concerns you cite were made before the explosion of the first plutonium fission bomb in 1945; which is a very different beast from an H (for Hydrogen) fusion-bomb.

By the time we got around to testing those much more powerful weapons, nobody was in the least concerned about what they might do to the atmosphere.

Posted by COMTE | March 29, 2008 8:49 PM

Don't take out that massive loan yet people. Ultra high energy cosmic rays have been observed with energies up to 51 JOULES, about ten million times greater than LHC energies. If it could happen it would have long ago.

Posted by markinthepark | March 29, 2008 8:58 PM


$8 billion is chicken feed. 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. Distribute that evenly and they get less than $2.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 29, 2008 11:57 PM

A few moments in Switzerland on the way thru to Disney's Black Hole would not suck.

Posted by wbrproductions | March 30, 2008 12:36 PM

At U of O there is one guy who is paranoid about us making nanobots. It takes my buddy about 3 years of his life to make a sample of "monodispersed nanoparticles" ie ... very small spherical things that are uniform in size. We care because they absorb light, and conduct electricity funny.

Yet he thinks we are making nanobots! It's enough to give the people work here stitches in laughter, it's a persistant nuisance to our advisors.

It reminds of the scene in the Simpsons, where they are in itchy and scratchy land and one of the robots removes his face plate to expose his circuitry, to which Marge resonds, "You see all that stuff inside Homwer? That's why your robot never worked."

Posted by OR Matt | March 30, 2008 1:07 PM

COMTE @ 30, you are of course, correct. I should have gone back and researched my half-remembered apocryphal anecdote. I hereby issue a correction to my erroneous comment.

Posted by Peter F | March 30, 2008 3:16 PM

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